Since a year ago the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, it has not ceased to draw my attention how many analyzes took for granted an effective distance between these Islamic fundamentalists and Al Qaeda. It was argued that the current internal and international circumstances made it unfeasible to perpetuate the association between the former, an Islamist entity with a local agenda cheered by the Muslim Brotherhood, and the latter, jihadists with global ambition, in addition to the fact that the Afghan Taliban committed themselves, in the context of its negotiations in Doha with the United States, to separate from Al Qaeda.
As if the Afghan Taliban had not continuously maintained, for more than two and a half decades, a stable and close relationship with Al Qaeda. As if part of the central command of Al Qaeda had not been located since 2002 in tribal areas of Pakistan adjacent to Afghanistan and protected by the Pakistani Taliban. As if the Taliban, both Afghan and Pakistani, had not repeatedly reneged on negotiated agreements with adversaries or enemies.
The foreseeable thing was, as we anticipated last summer from the Elcano Royal Institute, that with a Taliban government in Kabul, the leaders of Al Qaeda would have a much more permissive space to turn into a renewed focus of terrorist threat from which to promote radicalization processes violent. This is something that Ayman al Zawahiri himself was doing from the special comfort of his place in Kabul. Audiovisual proclamations from him, broadcast through Al Qaeda’s central propaganda production company, were appearing in the first half of 2022 more frequently than ever, at the rate of one almost every two weeks.
With the Afghan Taliban back in power, it was also possible to predict that the Al Qaeda directorate would sooner or later try to use that much more permissive space as a renewed focus of terrorist threat from which to also plan attack campaigns, especially in areas of conflict in the Middle East and along the arc of jihadist insurgency in Africa, which stretches from Mali to Somalia. But this is something that, under the strategy outlined by Al Zawahiri, was carried out by other members of Al Qaeda’s central command, including the territorial officials whose coordination committee acted from Iranian soil.
Now that Al Zawahiri has been killed in Kabul, I am also surprised by the comments regarding his alleged lack of charisma and vision as the leader of Al Qaeda. In fact, since Al Zawahiri put down in writing in 2013 the 17 detailed points of his general guidelines for jihad, after waiting for opportunities derived from the so-called Arab Spring and after expelling the Iraqi branch of the structure for disobedience global jihadist, it has reconstituted, expanded and incorporated its decentralized extensions, which number tens of thousands of militants, into a common deliberative process. Al Qaeda will again prioritize terrorism in Western societies as these developments and rivalry in global jihadism evolve.
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From a Spanish perspective, it is interesting to remember that Al Zawahiri was second in the hierarchy of Al Qaeda when the external operations command of the jihadist organization intervened in the planning of the March 11, 2004 attacks in Madrid. He used to refer to these, together with those of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington or those of July 7, 2005 in London, as evidence that Al Qaeda “took the battle to the enemy’s terrain.” He spoke of Al Andalus as the land of Islam, which it still is. And in his last speech, broadcast on July 14, he mentioned the “usurpation” of Ceuta and Melilla by Spain.
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